Friday, May 27, 2011

The older generation did have the "green thing" back then, but isn't it just a matter of perspective?

NOTE: I will be on vacation until June 12th and while I will have computer access the time will be spent with my wife not on the computer. See you when I return. Peace and grace, Pastor Jim

It is never a good thing to compare one generation to another or one era with another. These were different times that required a different set of guidelines. An example is that growing up in Miami we used electric fans in the windows to create a cool breeze through the room. We didn’t turn on the A/C because for one, we didn’t have A/C and secondly, we couldn’t afford to purchase one. Another example, we didn’t spend our evenings sitting before a TV but playing board games or running outside playing hide-n-seek because for one, we didn’t have a TV and secondly, we couldn’t afford a TV. Another example, Mom hung the wash out on the clothesline (she hung a pretty wash) instead of throwing it into a dryer because for one, we didn’t have a clothes dryer and secondly, we couldn’t afford a clothes dryer. Another example, we didn’t run to the store at the drop of the hat, we planned our weekly trips very carefully because we only had one car and Dad had it at work and we couldn’t afford a second car … different era, different priorities, different view of necessities. So it is a little dangerous to make comparisons on how one generation lived verses the present generation.

But … having said that, when the following arrived in my e-mail box it did cause me to pause and thinking that life in a previous time was harder and far more resourceful simply because it was either the way of life then and/or because we didn’t have the financial resources to live it any other way ... besides, much of what we have today hadn’t been invented yet or was just too expensive. It is simply a matter of perspective … therefore, one generation shouldn’t be too smug about what they did or didn’t do because all we have to do is look around us and discover that those of us who are now a part of the “older generation” who grew up not turning on powerful energy consuming contraptions, hanging out our clothes, walking to the store, climbing stairs, using cloth diapers, playing board games or sitting on the front porch in the evening instead of turning on the TV … are NOT still living that old lifestyle. We are enjoying the modern conveniences, but maybe we should give another look at what the previous generation did do and rediscover some of the more simple ways of living that was a part of their era. It wouldn’t hurt … it is just a matter of perspective …

How Wasteful the Older Generation Was ...
Author unknown
In the line at the store, the young cashier told the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bag because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized to him and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”

The clerk responded, "That's our problem today. The former generation did not care enough to save our environment."

But she was right, that generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.
Back then, they returned their milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But they didn’t have the green thing back in that customer's day.

In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go two blocks.

But she was right. They didn’t have the green thing in her day.

Back then, they washed the baby’s diapers because they didn’t have the throwaway kind. They dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts – wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that old lady was right; they didn’t have the green thing back in her day.

Back then, they had one radio and, later, maybe one TV, in the house – not one in every room. And the TV had a screen the size of a handkerchief, not the size of Montana. In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn’t have electric appliances to do everything for them.

When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, they didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the grass. They used a push mower that ran on human power. They exercised by working, so they didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she’s right; they didn’t have the green thing back then.

They drank from a fountain when they were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time they had a drink of water. They refilled their writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and they replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But they didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took a streetcar or bus, and kids rode their bikes or rode the school bus to school instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. They had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of outlets to power a dozen appliances. And they didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn't it sad that the current generation laments how wasteful the old folks were just because they didn't have the green thing back then?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The aha moment of discovery that we are loved and that we can love

Each of us needs to know that we are loved. Each of us deserves to be loved. Each of us desires to be instruments of love. Each of us wants to be loving … or at least that is my assumption.

This week’s devotional meditations all deal with the instructions to love one another as God has loved us. The aha moment came shortly after my father passed away and my only living brother sat at our table revealing how he and my other brother would discuss their concern for me. You see, what I was trying to deal with was that my mother was a verbal abuser and my dad was a physical abuser. Since I was strong of will and a little more that mouthy I figured I disserved what I was getting. My brother was quick to remind me that maybe there were moments here and there that punishment should have been experienced, but what I was receiving from my parents was more than anyone, regardless how strong willed or mouthy they might be, should be exposed to.

Essentially I grew up thinking that I wasn’t worthy of love. Maybe that is why I ended up becoming a minister because it was in and through the church that I gained some self-worth … it was through the people at church that I was accepted for who I was … it was the people of God that affirmed me … it was within the body of Christ that I discovered what it meant to be home. Thank you church!

So now, with my Master of Divinity degree in hand and my ordination orders hanging on the wall, I stood to proclaim the reality of love and acceptance while still dealing with the ghosts of events past and of the other things that go “bump-in-the-night” when you don’t expect it. I shared the testimony of a saving Savior, an accepting Lord and an approving Father. The aha moment was when I came to realize that one of the major reasons for Jesus Christ is so that we would come to accept the reality of being loved for it is only when we are accepted and affirmed that we are enabled to turn outward to love and accept love.

We are love because we have been loved! … Aha!

This week’s meditations, writings and biblical lessons hit as close to home as anything previously. Within the writings is this prayer authored by Kenneth G. Philer in his book, “A Book of Uncommon Prayer.”

Almighty God, I know so little of what love in its fullness can be. My love is marred by jealously, scarred by envy, limited by selfishness. I withhold love at the slightest provocation, and withdraw myself from involvement with others for fear of being hurt.

Still, I know something of what love can be like. I can remember being forgiven generously and freely by someone I had wronged. I can remember being comforted and cared for when, bruised and battered, I crept home. I can remember being made strong by the realization that someone cared. I am grateful for such experiences, for they tell me what love is about. And if the Lord Jesus be right, to know what love is like is to know what you are like.

If we humans can manifest unselfishness and concern, is it not because such experiences are of the very nature of that which is most important? For out of the heart of the Lord Jesus came the evidences of his love for all kinds of people and his refusal to give up on any of us. I am grateful for that love and for that refusal, for in him I have hope. I can even hope that I may catch more of his Spirit in my life. Will you help me to be more outgoing, less sensitive to slights, and more alert to the feelings of others? Will you help me to be less quick to judge and less righteous in my indignation? Will you help me to be more open to life and to other people? Will you give me confidence enough to be less defensive and less ready to react to rebuffs? Give me steadiness and firmness and true commitment to the life of faith. Amen.

Healing comes in little things and with grand sweeping things. Healing comes when we least expect it and when we have worked our fingers to the bone to achieve it. Healing comes through many channels by the graciousness of knowing and unknowing individuals. Healing stands at the threshold of our hearts to bring peace and fulfillment to our souls. Healing comes and we go, “Aha!” and discover God’s love through Jesus Christ … that we are loved unconditionally. Healing comes when we can turn outward to love others … unconditionally.

Quote for today: It is natural to love them that love us, but it is supernatural to love them that hate us. ~Source Unknown.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A pastor's perspective on the DNA-factor - how it controls us and the possibilities for our future

It is intriguing this phrase out of Psalm 128 – “You will eat the fruit of your labor.” Or, within a different context, Galatians 6:7 – “You will reap what you sow.” It is intriguing because we know this as a reality, but live in the hopes that it won’t be true … at least for us … that somehow we can escape this fact of life … maybe this time reality will simply pass us by.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on the problem and neither could many of the leaders of the church. We were right on the edge of great possibilities, but could never reach the horizon. We would get close, but something always erupted to hold us back … and when I say, “erupted” I mean erupted like in a volcanic eruption. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to any of us since we had discussed the fact that after every board meeting the discussion continued out in the parking lot as the board divided into 3 separate and distinct groups. One of the groups would be against whatever we just passed in the board meeting and would request that the issue be revisited the following month. Were they reaping what they had sown? Were they eating the fruit of their labor … a bitter fruit that would set anyone’s teeth on edge?

And then we had our 25th Anniversary. We invited the founding pastor back to preach on Sunday, but we also had a celebration dinner the night before where some of the charter members told funny stories about the church’s beginning and kind of “roasted” the founding pastor in the process. In his closing remarks, this pastor turned on a light of understanding for all of us leaders. He stated, “I knew that this church would always be a strong church because we never did anything without a good fight!” BINGO … there it was … he had established a negative DNA-factor that was negatively affecting us 25-years later.

We cannot change our personal DNA and I doubt, without a tremendous amount of work and a very long pastorate, can a church change its DNA. The challenge is how can we take what we are given to make it work within the context of our life … that is the “tremendous amount of work” that I was referring to.

After the 25th Anniversary celebration the leaders and each of the pastors that have followed have slowly – often painfully – began the process of learning how to live and work within the DNA that they were given. Twenty-five years later they are still working with it. At times they have become dispirited and discouraged, but they have hung in there, the faithful and committed few. It has helped that there have been a few timely deaths and several of the groups have disbanded, as well as certain members have moved on to other churches. But the struggle continues because the DNA gets past on to the next generation.

Galatians 5:15 states – “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” It is hard not to get caught up in all of the “pot-stirring” as one member of my present church shared during our share group, especially when one of the “pot-stirrers” is a spouse of a staff person. All of this just reinforces the DNA-factor of our heritage.

The key is that at all times and in all places to allow Love to reign.

The couple sat before me. Their home, the evening before, looked like a battlefield from WWII. Everything and anything that could have been thrown and broken was scattered across the floor. A truce was made … at least until they could meet with me the next morning, after all it was after midnight and it had been a long day. Besides I didn’t think sitting in the middle of all the rubble was conducive to a good discussion on how to make their marriage work. So here we sat facing each other. Gradually their stories began to emerge of their upbringing, experiences, and background. They had been given bad DNA and their needs were well beyond what little skills I had as a pastoral counselor.

The recommendation was made for them to see a particular counselor in the area. Why this counselor? Well, I had heard about the personality-interpersonal DNA that she was given and saw what she was able to do with it. This couple needed her skills. The result was successful because the counselor shared with them what had worked for her in overcoming negative/destructive DNA.

It requires a tremendous amount of work, tons of patience, a willingness to admit ones failings, a desire to change and truck loads of forgiveness from others … but paying the price of hard work it is possible both as individuals and as a church to begin to reap the fruits of our labors as the DNA changes by the power of the Holy Spirit.

A hymn from the pen of Charles Wesley speaks to this reality: Forgive My Foes? It Cannot Be:

Forgive my foes? it cannot be:
My foes with cordial love embrace?
Fast bound in sin and misery,
Unsaved, unchanged by hallowing grace,
Throughout my fallen soul I fee
With man this is impossible.

Great Searcher of the mazy heart,
A thought from thee I would not hide,
I cannot draw th’envenomed dart,
Or quench this hell of wrath and pride,
Jesus, till I thy Spirit receive,
Thou know’st, I never can forgive.

Come, Lord, and tame the tiger’s force,
Arrest the whirlwind in my will,
Turn back the torrent’s rapid course,
And bid the headlong sun stand still,
The rock dissolve, the mountain move,
And melt my hatred into love.

Root out the wrath thou dost retain;
And when I have my Savior’s mind,
I cannot render pain for pain,
I cannot speak a word unkind,
An angry thought I cannot know,
Or count mine injurer my foe.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Radical hospitality as illustrated by the life of Bill Ross

The overriding subject matter for my directed mediation this week is “Love One Another.” Today it asked me to think about radical hospitality. Radical is an interesting word – “relating to, or proceeding from the root,” “relating to the origin: fundamental,” “marked by a considerable departure from the usual or traditional: Extreme” – are but a few of the dictionary definitions.

A hospitality that is expressed out of the very core of our being; a hospitality that is simply a reality of our relationship with Jesus Christ; a hospitality that the world views as different and unusual; a hospitality that is more than just making people feel welcomed; a hospitality that doesn’t just go the second mile, but also the third, fourth and tenth extra mile … Radical hospitality.

When I think of radical hospitality I think of Bill Ross. My home church was started on his grandmother’s front porch. When anyone spoke of Allapattah Methodist they spoke and thought of Bill Ross and vise versa. You could use either one to define the other. They were one and the same. Bill showed radical hospitality. He could spot a visitor to the church at first glance. He didn’t need the visitors to stand up and identify themselves. He knew. And if you were absent from church he knew … and this wasn’t a small congregation and there were multiple services on Sunday morning. He simply knew the people because of an incredible love. His radical hospitality was rooted in his relationship with Christ. If Christ loved them then Bill Ross loved them. It was fundamental to who and what he was … and it was extreme.

Bill had a warm handshake, a bear of a hug, and a smile that would melt steel. His laugh would fill a stadium and spill out. Once he had you in his sight there was no escaping. His joy was contagious. You were not in his presence for very long before you discovered the source of his caring and the root of his love … namely, Jesus Christ. He radiated this love.

It was shared at his memorial service that when they sat down for Sunday dinner they never knew how many people would be putting their feet under their dining room table. Could be just the family or it could family plus ten or twelve more. They simply never knew. This “Ross Tradition” started during the war. If anyone showed up in a military uniform they were going to end up at the Ross home for Sunday dinner.

After the war this “tradition” carried over to those young men who attend Emery-Riddle just down the street from the church. And then Bill would start picking up any visitor who attended the worship service. The question was always asked, “Do you have plans for lunch?” It was hard to refuse his offer especially with his arm wrapped around your shoulder and his eyes locked on yours … and that ever warming smile. It was so warm, so inviting, so genuine, so … well, it was just so Bill Rose!

Radical hospitality – doing what nobody else would do, extending a welcome and an invite like nobody else, making the stranger feel like family, caring for the person deeper than they even care for themselves, going beyond the expected, making a difference, imprinting their soul with the outline of Christ – radical hospitality.

With Bill Ross the same radical hospitality was experienced if you visited his little soda shop or was just a stranger on the street. He never met anyone he didn’t instantly love, fell into a deep conversation with and would know your life story before you said your goodbyes. He was genuine, unique and deeply committed to changing the world in which he lived. He was radical in every way. The dictionary must have had him in mind when writing the definition. Was so amazing is that he didn’t have to go out of his way nor force himself to remember or to try … it just flowed from his inner being … his core values. Radical hospitality was as natural to Bill as was breathing.

As Christians were are called to show radical hospitality. As the opening prayer in my weekly meditation guide reads: “Turn our hostility into hospitality and our callousness into care.” What a prayer, what a thought, what a challenge … what a goal!

Quote for today: May peace be with you while you stay, and joy be with you on your way. ~An Irish blessing

Monday, May 23, 2011

Reflections on a spiritual journey

Spiritual journeys are interesting. They take on a life of their own. They are somewhat like the cars that are being advertised now that park themselves. You push a button and take your hands off the wheel and the car does the rest. When we place ourselves into the hands of God and stop trying to control the outcome things happen. So it is with my life.

I don’t know why I am amazed by all of this, but I am. In retrospect I look back to 2007. For the previous five years I had been serving as part-time interim pastor to a congregational church. There were a few leaders who desired above all common sense that they wanted to move to a full timer and one from their own denomination. It was not a wise move because of no other reason than the money just wasn’t there to support this effort. I was willing to continue, but that wasn’t in the cards and so, a vote was taken, a new pastor was hired and I moved on. Actually, in celebration of this change and turning 65 I fulfilled one of my bucket list wishes by skydiving. Oh, what a thrill … not all changes are thrilling, but all of them I believe are God created.

Was the hand of God at work here? We began our transition to Bradenton even though we loved our home in DeLand. It wasn’t the best time to move, the DeLand home was nearly paid off, the financial market was moving in the wrong direction and the housing bubble was about to bust. The move was made, we settled in, have rented out the DeLand home wanting for the market to return and began to search for a new church to call home.

A new pastor had come to Trinity, a friend of some years who needed some help. I jumped in with both feet. Before I knew what was happening the volunteer hours were starting to mount up … 10 then 15 then 20 hours per week. Yet, in the back of my mind there was an uneasy tension. Is this really what God wants me to do? Oh, the church was appreciative, but the uneasiness continued to build. A well-timed vacation, that took us out west for about 4plus weeks, allowed some quiet time of reflection. What I was doing for the church a layperson could do and should be doing. A strong feeling over took me … back away and wait. Prepare. I hate waiting … it takes so long!

The growing feeling of unrest continued to grow. Couldn’t put my finger on why, but it just continued to gnaw away at my spirit. I needed to be in a mindset and position for God to use me. I continued to visit in the hospital for the church, but not much of that anymore. A surgery, a couple of other short stays in the hospitals and demands of rehab really slowed me down, caused me to have a lot of quiet time and really pull away from the volunteer visitation position with some grace.

The prayer continued … here I am Lord use me. Then an email arrived followed by a phone call from the pastor. There was a church in need of a part-time pastor and he was recommending me for the position. Here I am Lord use me. Contact with the District Superintendent and before I knew all of the details I had an assignment.

The devotional material for the last several weeks (shared via this blog) had me looking at the Good Shepherd, being a True Disciple and making my home in the Word of God. Be careful what you pray for because God just might start taking you seriously. So now at the age of 68 I take up the responsibility of pastoring another flock, of breaking the Bread of Life for another gathering of Saints, of looking after the spiritual and emotional needs of fellow travelers on this spiritual journey.

Help me to remember that the car parks itself … as long as I take my hands off the wheel. It is not about me, I am not in charge and it is not about what I might wish, desire, want … it is about God and his Kingdom. Yes, I need to run this race. There is a fire burning in my spirit that will not be quenched for if I try to put it out it will truly consume me. As John Wesley shared, “God set me on fire and people from all over England come to see me burn.” May it be so for those in Palmetto and Bradenton and Parrish … may I burn brightly for the Lord!

Quote for today: After three years of ministry, hundreds of miles, thousands of miracles, innumerable teachings, Jesus asks who. Jesus bids the people to ponder not what he has done but who he is. It’s the ultimate question of the Christ: Whose son is he? ~Max Lucado

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A reflection on the End Time prediction of Harold Camping

It is the morning ritual. Papers (we get two now) come in. I read the first section, glance at the sports and then on to the comics. My wife likes the local section. She reads the obits to see if she knows anyone. Often she does. Running in the background is normally the TODAY show. A cup of coffee or hot tea might be sitting next to my chair. It is the morning ritual. And in the back of my mind, deep within my spirit is always the question, “How are you going to use me today Lord?” And that is followed up by, “Speak for your servant listens.”

This has special meaning today as some crazy Christians are spreading the news, as these fringe groups have in the past, that they know something that scripture says is only known by God – that the world is going to end at 6 p.m. this evening. The Rev. Harold Camping didn’t share if it was eastern, central, mountain or pacific time, but 6 p.m. is nevertheless the time for Jesus’ return. Been there, done that like in 1994 when he used his biblical knowledge to set the date for Jesus’ return … and if you hadn’t noticed, it didn’t happen … and the sun will set this evening and tomorrow will bring a dawning of a new day.

The morning ritual will continue for most of us, but for the crazies they will be disappointed that the prediction didn’t come true. Tears will flow. Believers in this foolishness will drop away … until the next “biblical” scholar comes along with some sort of formula that proves beyond any doubt that he/she has the inside information on the ending time for mother Earth.

From the time of Christ there has always been someone out there that uses their “higher intelligence” to reveal the unknowable truth. Each prediction has gone unfilled as Mr. Camping’s will today. People’s faith will be shaken because it has been misplaced. They have trusted a false prophet. Scripture warns us against listening to false prophets. Jesus had a particular stern warning to the leaders of Israel for leading the people down the wrong path. His warning is still applicable today.

Growing up at Allapattah Methodist in Miami we had a beloved little preacher, A. A. Koestline … Uncle Al. One of his favorite activities in Bible teaching was to pull out this massive wall chart. It must have been 8 by 15 feet. He would stand before it with his long pointer lecturing away about the truth in the book of Revelation. I don’t remember much of what he said. I do remember that us guys would sit on the back row and laugh at his efforts. It wasn’t kind, but every time he would hit the chart we would jump and laugh. He meant well as does Mr. Camping, but these men of God have their priorities misplaced.

Trust is key. Trust God to be God. Allow God to do his God-thing. Follow the teachings of scripture by sharing the Good News that Jesus Christ, the Savior, the Messiah has come into our world. People come into a living relationship with God not out of fear, but out of hope. There is a willingness to accept the relationship when it is based on love and not out of anxiety that the world is coming crashing down around us.

Life is difficult for the best of us most of the time. We don’t need another fear factor introduced that states that the world is spinning out of control. We need a word of hope, a word of promise, a word of possibility, a word of love and of faith.

In my seminary class that dealt with this subject we listed out all the “stuff” that was to take place when the end times does happen. It wasn’t a pretty list. Our conclusion: it isn’t something that we would like to be around to experience. Secondly, wouldn’t it be better to preach the Good News of his first coming. Therein is the joy … a joy that we are Kingdom people and Hallelujah is our song! As a footnote to the class the professor wondered aloud, “Could the resurrection be the second coming? After the Earth did violently shake at his death and a glorious new day, an era of eternal reign, when he came forth from the grave. Could we be living in the day of rejoicing?” I like his kind of thinking!

And the rituals of life continue … just make sure that God is a part of them. Speak Lord your servant listens.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The supremacy of Christ in the face of life's battles - based on Colossians 1:15-29

Ever get caught up in one of those frenzy “must read” movements that at times sweeps across the country? It is when a book takes on a life of its own and it would appear that you are the only one in your circle of friends who hasn’t read it. Everybody is talking about it. The Internet is filled with bloggers writing about THE book. Colleagues at work are all carrying a copy. You see the book displayed in shop windows. No matter which way you turn there it is. It becomes impossible to avoid coming in contact with the book. The morning talk shows all feature interviews with the author. It is a frenzy. Wouldn’t be great if the book with the highest number of sales year after year became a “must read”?

Scripture: Colossians 1:15-29
Paul writes about the supremacy of Christ using one of my favorite phrases, “…and in him all things hold together”. Then he moves on to address the listener’s relationship with Christ and the reconciliation that has taken place ending with his own testimony of what he has suffered to bring the Word to the people so that they would have a solid relationship with Christ.

Reflection: I like the thought of Christ holding everything together especially when it is applied to all aspects of life. The Sun rises in the morning, the Earth rotates on its axis, gravity continues to function every day, two cells come together multiplying into a new life, the heart continues to beat, eyes see, nose smells, the body takes in nourishment … he holds all things together. It is amazing. It is a blessing. It is a testimony to the supremacy of and central role played by Christ. And our life is never the same again.

Prayer: With profound gratitude, gracious Lord, I accept the reality that my entire existence is a testimony to Christ sitting at your right hand. Help me to never to take any of it for granted. Guide me so that my life with be one of praise. Lead me down the path where I have only one focus, one reality … Jesus Christ himself and the Word which reveals his truth. In the name that is above all names I do pray. Amen.

Further reflection from Companions on the Inner Way by Morton T. Kelsey
“When we get a vision of the God of whom Jesus speaks we will want fellowship with this one who combines the best qualities of a good father and a good mother. We are children. There is no question about Abba’s receiving us. All we need to do is acknowledge our childishness and come. This is the reason why the broken and simple, the poor in spirit, the anxiety-ridden, the mourning, the meek, the unsatisfied and unfulfilled, the hungry and thirsty, the persecuted and ridiculed find it so easy to turn to the God Jesus reveals. Those who are doing quite well on their own and think that they have life securely within their grasp don’t like to admit their ultimate helplessness and come as children before Abba. They don’t feel the need of it. It also may be beneath their dignity.”

The Struggle: I call it the Yin-Yang (often misspelled as Ying-Yang) factor of the Christian walk. When life is great, we are being blessed at every turn, there is harmony in our hearts and all relationship, our health is solid, we get plenty of sleep, and happiness marks our existence … we take God for granted and fail to work on our relationship with him. But when life becomes a little more sticky, when things are not going quite so well, when there is more tension than harmony in our life, when we are disturbed by the things that “bump-in-the-night,” when we could explain our daily life more with sadness than with joy … we turn to God to try to figure out the problem and get back on track. Well, that is my testimony, is it yours? My devotional life is the strongest at the beginning of a ministry than after my feet are on the ground dealing with the variety of issues that start flying at the pastor many at a time … ever faster and faster. When the hours in a day become more hectic and the problems more challenging, when there are threats at every turn … at those very moments when I really need a solid relationship with God I have a tendency to say to him, “Hey, that’s okay. I’ve got this one.” But my energy fails, my dignity crumbles, my abilities become very frail and I get lost. I struggle to keep my focus on his word and his supremacy. I don’t know about anyone else, but I need to remind myself often, daily, hourly that Christ holds all things together and not Martin!

A Story: My oldest brother was dying. The cancer that he had been fighting for more than 10 to 15 years finally was taking over his body. The exercise program that he had created no longer was effective at keeping the dark shadow from his door. The medicine that he was being given was failing to do what the doctors had hoped. As the energy and life was ebbing from his lungs he asked his wife to have her pastor come by the home. Earlier in his life in had been involved in the life of a church. He enjoyed singing in a gospel quartet. The simple activities of the weekly rituals made sense to one who was seeking a meaningful pattern for life. Then he was off to college and his intellect was awakened. He began to ask probing questions. He and the pastor got into some deep discussions. The pastor always lost the debates. My brother turned his back on the church. He had no use for closed minds, pat answers, shallow thinking. He embraced a world that was open to all sorts of answers. And it worked from him most of the time. But now, faced with the quickly approaching inevitability of reality he turned once again to the church and a pastor. The answers that had worked through his adult life no longer worked. The needs were deeper and more profound than a quote one of the many books that he had read. The artistry of his passion no longer sufficed to bring him peace. In the end he needed more and he knew where he needed to turn. It was there in the bedroom of his Miami Shores home that he acknowledged, once again, the supremacy of Christ over his life. His soul found the victory even as his body was losing the battle.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Making God's Word our home and its instructions the purpose of our living

When we hear the word “home” what is the first thing that we think of? Is it peace? Security? Where everybody knows my name? A place to let our hair down? Comfortable? Don’t we normally associate smells, people, events and memories with our home? The opening prayer for this week begins with: “O God, whose nature invites us always to stay close by you, help us now to make your word our home….” What does that mean, “to make your word our home”?

Scripture: James 1:19-26
James gives the instructions that we should not only listen to the word, but also do what it says. He promises that we should hear the word and not forget it and therein lays the blessing.

Reflection: Martin Luther did not like the book of James. He thought it weak, placing too much emphasis on the “doing” part of our faith. As Americans we too slip over into a works righteousness mindset. We have our checklists of things that we should do and things we shouldn’t do in order to claim the little Christian. In the back of our minds we are thinking that we are earning our place in heaven, we are placing ourselves into God’s good graces, we are positioning ourselves to be blessed … all by the “stuff” we do. In actuality that is not the intent of the scripture lesson at all. The instruction is that if we do not follow what we read/hear then the word of God has fallen on deaf ears. The directive is that we should plant the word of God deep within our soul so that every deed we do, every word we speak, every action we take will be in harmony with God’s purpose. Our living should be second nature to us, automatic, a fulfillment where the love of God and love for others simply is synonymous with our faith statements.

Prayer: Help me great God to be the same in my thinking and in my doing. Help me to so order my life that what I am in the morning is the same person that I am in the evening. Help me be a living testimony of everything that I read in your word. Help me to make my home in your word. In the name of the word that became flesh and dwelt among us Jesus Christ the same I pray. Amen.

Further reflection from A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly
“Meister Eckhart wrote, ‘As thou art in church or cell, that same frame of mind carry out into the world, into its turmoil and fitfulness.’ Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself. Yielding to these persuasions, gladly committing ourselves in body and soul, utterly and completely, to the Light Within, is the beginning of true life. It is a dynamic center, a creative Life that presses to birth within us. It is a Light Within which illumines the face of God and casts new shadows and glories upon the face of (humanity). It is a seed stirring to life if we do not choke it. It is the Shekinah of the soul, the Presence in the midst. Here is the Slumbering Christ, stirring to be awakened, to become the soul we clothe in earthly form and action. And He is within us all.”

The Struggle: I have always admired the men and women who have crossed my path who were deeply rooted in the Word and their life showed it in every way. They have, more times than not, been individuals who dropped out of school or had just a high school diploma. They were the housewives, the day laborers, the blue-collar workers, the minimum wage earners of my churches, but always within arms reach was their worn and tattered Bible along with a word of encouragement, a dollar or two for the poor and a willingness to go out of their way for others. One dear soul’s Bible was so used that she had to use a big rubber band to keep it together. I suggested that I could get her another Bible if she would like. Well, you probably know her answer. This dear Bible was her constant companion, her friend, and as she shared, “more familiar to me than even my own children”. Her stove always had two pots working – one for her family and one for a family in need. I have admired these men and women and prayed with a longing heart that I would be so committed to the Word of God that my Bible would have to be held together with a rubber band and my spirit always be ready to meet the needs of others. Then there are others who’s Bible was falling apart because they were constantly reading it, but I didn’t respect them because of the content of their living. This last group is more like me than I care to admit and therein is my struggle.

A Story:
I love telling the old story of the preacher who was invited to dinner one evening. The conversation around the dinner table was pleasant, but guarded because the parents where not really sure what little Johnny would share with the preacher man. There were some “family secrets” that the adults of the home would rather have remain secret. But they did want to impress the preacher. As the conversation developed around the Christian walk and being devoted believers the mother particularly wanted to impress the pastor with her righteousness and piety so she spoke up and said, “Johnny why don’t you go get the book that we read all the time” thinking of the Bible. Little Johnny returns with the Sears Catalogue. “No, Johnny, that’s the wrong book. You know the other book that we look at every evening.” This time Johnny returns with the Victory Secret catalogue. Getting a little more frustrated and starting to lose her composure said with a little more force, “No, Johnny, not those books. The one that is so important to us that we keep it on the table in the living room and read from it every day.” This time Johnny returns with the Southern Living Cookbook. With that the mama storms out of the room to get it herself, comes back with a big, dusty family Bible and places it before the preacher so he can read from it. They were not prepared for the pastor’s next comment, “Well, I will be more than happy to read from your Bible. Let me read your favorite passage. Which one would that be?” Silence fell finally upon the table.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Finding time in a busy world to stay close to God

Staying close to God seems to be the #1 challenge for most of us. There is so much that simply demands our attention. We are always tired, worn out, exhausted just trying to get it all done. Many of us go to bed in the evening leaving more undone than we were able to accomplish. We feel like the Dunkin’ Donut man that meets himself coming through the front door of his home as he is leaving to go to work because it is always “time to make the donuts”. And so the merry-go-round that we happen to be on keeps moving. Through it all we desire, long for, wish for those opportunities to stay close to God, but we just cannot face another demand upon our time and energy. What to do?

Scripture: Mark 12:28-34
Here is the question about which one is the greatest commandment. Jesus’ answer was dead on … to love God with every ounce of your being and to love your neighbor like you love yourself.

Reflection: Bringing together our desire to stay close to God and the greatest commandment is easier than we would have initially imagined. It is not about getting up an hour earlier in the day to have our quiet time (although that isn’t a bad idea), it isn’t about carrying a prayer card around so that when we have those moments to ourselves as in sitting at a red light, standing in an elevator or visiting the necessary room we can pull it out offering a pray (although that isn’t a bad idea either), it isn’t about picking up a Upper Room or some other devotional material as we sit eating our breakfast, lunch or dinner (although that too isn’t a bad idea), it isn’t about following any of the other devotional guidelines (although there are a ton of great suggestions) … It is about loving God and loving each other more than we love ourselves and finding ways to express that love in concrete and meaningful ways … significant ways … simple and direct ways … a touch, a phone call, a written note, a visit, a shared cup of coffee … nothing spectacular, but something that wasn’t expected, but once experienced will bring us closer to God and closer to others. This is the secret … the more we do for others the more time we will discover that we have for God. I don’t know how that works because there are only 24 hours in a day, but it just happens.

Prayer: Open my heart, O God, to those around me and help me to discover ways that I might lift their loneliness, burden, worry. Help me to add a smile to someone’s life. Help me to draw closer to you in the process. I desire to love you with all of my being so come and saturate my soul until there is no more room for anything else except a love for you! In Jesus name I do ask this. Amen.

Further reflection from I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body by Rubem Alves:
“We are that which we love. Neither larger nor smaller than the size of the objects of our desire. And that is why Christians become known by revealing to each other their dreams. To dream is to see love and desires transformed into symbols, words. It should not be frightening, then, that God, who is love, speaks to us through our dreams. And may we, from our part, speak to God through prayer, which is nothing more than the confession of our dream of love before the altar.”

The Struggle: This issue speaks to the heart of my problem. I am always tired. Even when I am exercising and eating correctly I am always tired. It might have something to do with the medical problems I experienced when I was a child, but I simply stay tired. Demands on our time and energy make us all tired. The daily routine and its never-ending demands overwhelm us. We dream of a moment here or a moment there where we might be able to pull away and rest in the arms of Jesus. We dream of a life of devotion. We long for those quiet moments when it is just God and us. We desire some peace. It is a struggle … a never ending balancing act. If we give God more time, then what do we delete from our schedule? And, where do we begin?

Christ is Alive
Christ is alive! Let Christians sing.
His cross stands empty to the sky.
Let streets and homes with praises ring.
His love in death shall never die.

A Story from Management Digest, Vol. 1, No. 4, July 1989:
One hour of quiet concentration in any business can be worth two hours of normal working time, according to the management of a Denver business, quoted in a Success magazine item.

"Interruptions are the biggest enemy of creativity," says Gary Desmond, a principal of Hoover Berg Desmond (HBD) a $30 million a year architectural firm. To minimize the inevitable interruptions in the firm's large, open offices, Desmond came up with the idea which is more familiar with kids than corporations--the quiet hour. Every morning from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., no one at HBD including the principals, may communicate with anyone else inside or outside the office. "Basically, we're sitting at our desks for that hour," says Desmond, who makes allowances for emergency phone calls. "We try to focus totally on our clients' designs." Initially, HBD's 25 employees balked at the concept.

"Management had to explain that this was not a response to bad work habits. It was a vehicle to make us concentrate even more rigorously," says Desmond, although he now concedes that quiet hour is an excellent crack-the-whip technique too. But what do the clients think of it? At first, the firm chose to hide the policy from the outside world. "Businesses that found out used to ask if we served milk and cookies at quiet hour," says Desmond. "But we stuck to it and now those same firms respect how much we're trying to accomplish every morning." Quiet hour has worked out so well, in fact, that HBD wants to start a second one, perhaps in midafternoon. "Our employees all wish they had more quiet hours," says Desmond. "It gives us what most businesses need so badly, a little time to think."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A reflection on discipleship and building a strong foundation as told in Matthew 7:21-28 ... a story from my teenage years

Dorothy, in “The Wizard of Oz”, was instructed to click her heels of the ruby red slippers three times and repeat, “There’s no place like home.” And so it is with us who seek to be disciples. Dependent on the Holy Trinity (the tree times in the story), clicking the ruby red slippers (the blood of Christ) and understanding that home is where the heart is … the Kansas of our existence. Oh, we might wish to live in a world “just over the rainbow”, but that is only a make-believe world and once there we start to discover that our land of our dreams is filled with all sorts of horrible things. Discipleship is learning to live in a real world. Discipleship is not escaping from the mean people of life nor the situations that make us uncomfortable, but realizing that we have the power and authority to live a victorious life even in the presence of the things that go bump in the night.

Scripture: Matthew 7:21-28
First comes a warning to those who outwardly appear to be God’s prophets, but are His prophets in their words only. Then comes the story of the foolish and wise builders … it is the sand or rock foundation story.

Reflection: How firm is the foundation where we stand? Some choose a foundation built on who they know, while others choose a foundation on how much they have. Still others choose a foundation on their reputation and position, while others choose a foundation on abilities and skills. When all is said and done the only foundation that has any value is the one built on relationship … the one and only relationship that truly matters – Jesus Christ. Once that foundation is secure then no matter what happens we will stand tall. We can fulfill the scripture that states, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil….” (Romans 12:17). We demand justice. We expect the right to retaliate. We get caught up in the Old Testament form of retribution, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth….” (Exodus 21:22). Could it be that our foundation is threatened? With a strong, rock solid foundation we can stand against all sorts of evil and not feel threatened. There are numerous people looking at us during these personal and national storms of life. They are witnessing how we react to the battering winds of life. They are wondering if our “talk is backed up by our walk”. The strength of our foundation is the first sign of our discipleship.

Prayer: Father, we have to admit that life can get us down. We have to admit that we struggle over too many petty things. And when the mighty winds of a storm strike us we are blown away. We need, we desire a strong foundation … a rock solid foundation … a storm defying foundation … a foundation that will allow us to forgive our enemies … a foundation that will permit us not to worry … a foundation that will give us the strength to deal with any life threatening issue that comes our way. We desire a foundation built on Jesus Christ himself, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Further reflection from Picturing God by Ann Belford Ulanov
“We keep our pictures of God secret from each other and often even from ourselves. For what would others think if we talked of God as a stalking animal, sniffing us like prey, or as an alien, a foreigner whose breath is upon our face, or whose foot is on our neck? What of a God so palpable and near that only an abstract symbol can make it bearable, like Jung’s mandala, to some so calming and capacious, to others only dead artifacts? What of God, as the psalmist says, with great wings under which we hide? Or God’s grace like a large lap into which we crawl, a breast upon which we lean? Or God a warrior calling us out to fight? Or God as Jesus sitting in the back pew of your church…?”

The Struggle: I have always struggled with keeping my eyes on the foundation. There is just so much baggage that keeps getting in the way. When I move away from the foundation disciplines my life becomes shaky, my relationships start breaking down, my thoughts begin to wander in directions that I wouldn’t want to admit to anyone, and my body begins to breakdown physically. Stress, anxiety, worry, depression, and an entire mix of other negative emotions start to take control. Keeping my feet planted on the rock solid foundation takes discipline and once established there I can claim discipleship.

A Story: As you read this story from my teenage years please be reminded that God gets all the glory here … it is not about me, but it is about the power of God at work within me.

I didn’t know that my new faith and relationship was going to be tested so early in my walk. I had just returned from summer youth camp where I had given my heart to Christ when I met up with Dick L – the Manor Park bully … my personal bully. Dick had been on my case for the past five years. He took every opportunity to beat me into the ground. His antics made him a “real man” in the eyes of the girls he wanted to impress. All I knew is that I got bruised battered and blue. It was humiliating and it just made me angry. It touched me at my weakest point. I fought back with all of my might, but Dick was well developed – must of lifted weights and I was the proverbial 100 lb weakling. But the summer camp experience had changed something inside of me. I didn’t hate Dick any longer. I wasn’t looking forward to meeting up with him upon my return, but I didn’t hate him because the preacher at camp had asked us to leave all that “stuff” at the altar.

One late afternoon I and my friend Donnie Hall were leaving the park’s pool when who should be waiting for me to come out, but the bully Dick L. He called me by my name. I kept walking. He called me a few of his other chosen names for me, the girls giggled and I kept walking. The next thing I knew was his hand on my shoulder forcing me to turn around and face him. “Didn’t you hear me *&#@?” I just looked at him and said, “Yes, Dick I heard you, but I don’t wish to fight you any longer.” His punch hit me squarely on the jaw. It hurt. Then came a second one, then a third one. I just stood there. I didn’t say anything back to his taunts nor did I throw a punch. Dick didn’t know what to do. Donnie, my friend, kept encouraging me to defend myself, but there I stood … well, not for long. Another punch or two and I was on the ground being kicked. Finally, he stopped … I breathed deeply and with some effort I stood up. I looked right at Dick and shared, “Dick, this summer I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and I’m not going to fight you anymore. Oh, you can hit me and beat up on me, but I will still love you as a friend.” And then I turned and walked away.

The next September he and I went to different Junior High Schools. I breathed a prayer of thanks for that small blessing. For some reason for the next 2 years our paths didn’t cross at Manor Park even though we both lived only a block away from each other. But then came Miami Edison Senior High School and there we were … in the same school, in the same grade. I prayed hard that our paths wouldn’t cross much and they didn’t until one afternoon …

I was in the small motorcycle parking area. I had a small bike and was picking it up to go home when who should appear before me, but members of the Little River Rats – a notorious bad gang that attend, when they wished, classes at the high school. “Hey, Martin, we are going to borrow your bike.” I knew that if they “borrowed” my ride I would never see it again so I stood my ground. They started to move in my direction. I knew what was about to happen and wasn’t looking forward to the experience. Then they simply stopped. From behind me came the voice of Dick L., “If you touch Jimmy you will have to deal with me!” It was a stand-off, but eventually they left. I turned around and thanked Dick. He just stared at me, shook his head and said, “Jimmy, you know I still don’t understand you, but I do respect you.”

I praised God all the way home that day and every day thereafter … it was a hard lesson in Discipleship and foundation building.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Working on the meaning of being a true disciple without jumping through church created hoops

The overriding question this week is what does it mean to be a true disciple? The answer reveals much about how we view God. There are those who place a bunch of Old Testament style demands and expectations upon a disciple such as, have to be in church every Sunday, have to read the Bible every day, have to tithe, have to “button-hole” others about their relationship with God, have to do this and have to do that. But what does the Lord require of us, but to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God, to quote Micah 6:8. Everything else, I believe, grows out of that relationship.

Scripture: Psalm 18:1-19
This Psalm shares the fact that God is our strength. He is strong and to be trusted regardless how dark the world becomes and how threatening life becomes God is always there to rescue us and to support us against all. The Lord is the rock, the fortress and the deliverer.

Reflection: How easy it is to allow problems to overwhelm us. From my perspective, it simply means that we have lost our focus. When we focus on the problems instead of the solution-maker then it is rather easy to be overwhelmed. The enemy does surround us. The challenges to life do have a tendency to buildup. The reality is that our problems are more numerous than we first imagine. But the truth is stronger than our problems. The truth is that God is on our side and he will not allow us to stumble nor fall. If God is for us that what or who can stand against us. Our focus simply needs to be placed squarely on him and although it would seem that we are living inside a tornado we will survive!

Prayer: Gracious God, I seek to be a true disciple and not get caught up in all of the “trappings” of what others say about what makes up a true disciple. Help me to seek out justice in all matters, not retribution or “equaling the score”; help me to love mercy and forgiveness above all else regardless of the wrongs that I might have suffered, and help me to keep my focus on you and to walk humbly with you in all things. Help to realize it is not about me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Further reflection from Picturing God by Ann Belford Ulanov
“Picturing God must precede any speaking about God, for our pictures accompany all our words and they continue long after we fall silent before God. Images – the language of the psyche – are the coin of life; they touch our emotions as well as our thoughts; they reach down into our bodies as well as toward our ideas. They arrive unbidden, startling, after our many years of effort to craft them.”

The Struggle: Wouldn’t it be great if there was some kind of celestial check list of things that we could do and accomplish that would make this discipleship living much easier? All find in scripture concerns relationship – how I relate to others, how I relate to my enemies, how I forgive those who do all sorts of evil things against us … this stuff is hard. I would much rather check off the “read-the-Bible-go-to-church” kind of stuff. Those things are easy. It is something that I can accomplish on my own. I don’t need God … opps, that’s the problem isn’t it. Discipleship requires God to be accomplished. The normal “stuff” that churches often speak about when it comes to discipleship is just the everyday kind of things that we can accomplish on our own. Therein lies the problem … we would rather live our life without God and still be a disciple, but God wants a relationship with us. Thus, the number one requirement of discipleship is to be in a relationship with him. In that relationship we can ask the harder questions about living – how do I relate to an Osama Bin Laden type people in love and mercy; how do I forgive my enemies; how do I truly seek justice for everyone; how do I relate to that smelly homeless person; how do I spend my energy, my time, my resources – that the more simple approach to a church-style discipleship allows us to avoid.

I Want a Principle Within by Charles Wesley
I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear,
a sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire,
to catch the wandering of my will, and quench the kindling fire.

A Story from Eating Problems for Breakfast by Tim Hansel:
To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter's Carpenter Shop
Nazareth 25922

From: Jordan Management Consultants

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.

As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely, Jordan Management Consultants

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Striving to be the shepherd under the True Shepherd as indicated in Paul's farewell speech in Acts 20:17-38

To hear no other voice except the voice of the True Shepherd is a blessing … a desired spiritual goal … a longing of our souls … a prayer of our spirit … to hear no other voice but the only voice that matters … the only voice that can bring salvation … the only voice that brings with it restoration … to hear our name spoken by that voice … the voice of the True Shepherd.

Scripture: Acts 20:17-38
This is Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesians Elders. It is a word of warning and a word of hope. It is a farewell that addresses the reality of what Paul was heading towards and the needs that they will face in his absence. It is an encouraging word to be shepherds to those placed in their care by God who bought them with his own blood.

Reflection: Sometimes we are dependent on the presence of others for our spiritual strength as the Ephesians elders where on Paul. But, the time comes when our spiritual mentors do leave us and the spiritual work of the fellowship of believers falls into our hands. It is good to be reminded that the people in our care, as their shepherds, are not ours, but Gods … and our strength for serving them and helping to meet their needs doesn’t come from us but from God … if we are but dependent on God’s word and his grace.

Prayer: May I, True Shepherd, be worthy of the trust that is being placed in my hands to shepherd your people and look after their spiritual needs. May I stand upon your word and allow your grace to work through me … now and always. In the name of that eternal grace Jesus Christ. Amen.

Further reflection from And the Angels Were Silent by Max Lucado
“Go to the effort. Invest the time. Write the letter. Make the apology. Take the trip. Purchase the gift. Do it. The seized opportunity renders joy. The neglected brings regret.”

And from Classics of Western Spirituality Series by George Herbert
“Lord, who hast form’d me out of mud,
And hast redeem’d me through thy blood,
And sanctifi’d me to do good.

“Purge all my sins done heretofore:
For I confess my heavy score,
And I will strive to sin no more.

“Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,
With faith, with hope, with charity;
That I may run, rise, rest with thee.”

The Struggle: The reality of my ministry is that all too often when I stand up for Jesus I simply stand in his way instead of allowing him to work through me. Being a pastor to a people is truly a trust … a sacred trust … that comes not from church elders, but by God himself. The struggle, at least for me, is to keep that ever before me … to follow his agenda and not mine … to fulfill his desires for the congregation and not mine … to express God’s opinion not mine … to bring about God’s desire for the body of believers and not mine … to keep him ever before the people and fade into the background … to allow the people to see only Jesus and not me!

Have Thine Own Way, Lord by Adelaide A. Pollard
Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Thou are the potter; I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after thy will,
while I am waiting, yielded and still.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The special relationship that exists between us and the True Shepherd as illustrated in 1 Peter 5:1-11

There are times in all of our lives that it feels that we are living in a foreign land ... a dessert even … a land that is barren, dried up, empty and forsaken. We feel that we have been cutoff from anything meaningful. No friends are insight. No hope rises on the horizon. Then we cry out to the only one who will listen … to the only one who has an answer … to the only one who holds the possibility of hope for us. We cry out and the True Shepherd hears our cries.

Scripture: 1 Peter 5:1-11
Here Peter writes instructions to the human shepherds who are responsible for God’s flock. We are to serve this flock with humility and care not looking after our own welfare, but what is best for the flock. If we are faithful in the task that is set before us God will bring the glory and we will be restored.

Reflection: We are always looking over our shoulders, especially when we are much younger, to see who is paying attention. “Look at me, daddy,” says our daughter or son. Even if they say nothing they still are looking out of the corner of their eyes to see if we are paying attention … because their world revolves around them. When we become adults the attention shifts or at least it should. We are not the center any longer. Life doesn’t revolve around us any longer. It is our responsibility to be the caregiver, the one who pays attention to the needs of others, whose focus is squarely on those around us, those that have been given over to our care. We are the shepherd or should I say, the under-shepherd. We are under the authority of the True Shepherd. The flock belongs to God, but he has entrusted it into our care. We are to be faithful in all matters and if there is any glory, any recognition, any honor to be received it will be God who brings it … no matter who might be looking at us while we serve God’s flock.

Prayer: There are times, O Lord, that I see only myself … my needs, my wants, my wishes, my desires … to the detriment of the responsibility that you have given to me. I have failed you. I failed your flock. I failed to be faithful. Please forgive me and restore me to your Promised Land. In the name of Jesus the restorer. Amen.

Further reflection from Together in Solitude by Douglas V. Steere
“Ministers of the gospel have many occupational hazards and diseases and these have frequently been diagnosed with telling power. But all too seldom have the ministers been reminded of the unmatched spiritual opportunity that has been almost uniquely lavished on them by God, namely the opportunity of being confronted hour after hour with human problems that are utterly beyond their own strength to unravel, and which drive them back to listen for, and to draw upon a deeper wisdom and strength than they are able in themselves to supply. How often are ministers drawn back into the supernatural life of God, back into what Tauler calls ‘suffering in God’ by their own weakness and the sheer abysmal personal needs of those who call on them for help?”

The Struggle: The scriptures and the reflective reading hit at the heart of my own journey. Ministry is a constant reminder for me of my own failings and shortcomings. It continues to be a source that illustrates my inadequacy. I was raised in an environment that instilled in me to be “the problem solver,” “the one with answers,” “the take charge person”. Over and over and over again being in ministry simply reminds me of my “inhumanness” … less than God had created me to be. So, once again I am picking up the responsibility of pasturing a church. Once again I am having the mantle of shepherd placed upon my shoulders. Once again I am accepting the duties to be the one who stands in the gap for a people. Once again … I do it with great trepidation because I know my own inadequacies. The struggle is to keep my spirit focused on God, giving him the glory for all things and in all things. I must rely on him for all things and keep my ghosts of failure buried in the scriptures and under the blanket of prayer. I need the True Shepherd’s help to keep my eye on the prize and run this race with a faithful heart.

Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us –attr. to Dorothy A. Thrupp
Early let us seek thy favor,
Early let us do thy will.
Blessed Lord and only Savior,
With they love our bosoms fill.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou hast loved us, love us still.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou hast loved us, love us still.

Trying to discern between the voice of the Good Shepherd out of all the voices demanding our attention

(This blog was originally posted on May 12th but because of technical difficults it had to be reposted)

It is one thing to hear the Shepherd. It is an entirely different thing to heed what you hear. Failing to respond to the Shepherd’s voice is dangerous. We place our very soul in peril. In Psalm 80 once again we witness Israel crying out to be rescued. They had failed to follow the guidelines for living as faithful people and ended up in trouble. This was repeated continuously in their history. Unfortunately, we are no different than the Israelites. The True Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, the ever present caring Shepherd always comes and always rescues and always restores us to the Promised Land, aka an ongoing relationship with himself.

Scripture: John 10:1-18
Jesus shares the difference between the good shepherd and the bad shepherd. One comes to protect and lead the sheep; the other comes to rob and kill. One the sheep will follow; the other the sheep will run away from. One brings life; the other brings destruction.

Reflection: Oh, the voices! Oh, the multiple and varied voices … each demand, expecting, requiring that we do it their way. Each voice offers an inviting and interesting alternative to what is happening in our life at the present. Each voice gets our attention for a season. Yet, we soon discover that we are being manipulated not for our benefit, but for the benefit of the one speaking. Sometimes we make this discovery too late. There is a personal cost to following the wrong advice, heeding the wrong voice, accepting the direction of the wrong individual. Unfortunately, we make this discovery only when the land goes dry, we are in bondage to a horrible way of thinking and living. Only the True Shepherd brings life, abundant life.

Prayer: Help us gracious Shepherd to so hear your voice that it drowns out the competing voices for our attention. May we live so close to you that our thoughts will be your thoughts, our feelings will be your feelings, and our ways will be your ways. In the name of the way of life, Jesus Christ himself. Amen

Further reflection from Six Hours One Friday by Max Lucado
“When God became flesh and was the victim of an assassination attempt before he was two years old, he didn’t give up. When the people from his own home town tried to push him over a cliff, he didn’t give up. When his brothers ridiculed him, he didn’t give up. When he was accused of blaspheming God by people who didn’t fear God, he didn’t give up…. God would give up his only son before he’d give up on you.”

The Struggle: Haven’t each of us always wanted to do the right thing? But, our own personal agendas and our own personal desires and our own personal opinions have gotten in the way. That is why we are so attracted to the bleating of bad shepherds. On the surface it sounds great. On the surface it appears to be correct and true. On the surface … but then we turn around and we are in trouble. The real struggle, at least for me, is discerning the voice of the True Shepherd from all the voices that continuously sound off in my ear. Our hearts are in the right place. Our intentions are worthy. Our desires and hopes are praise worthy … but our actions often trip us up because we are listening to the wrong shepherds.

Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us – attr. to Dorothy A. Thrupp
Early let us seek thy favor,
Early let us do thy will;
Blessed Lord and only Savior,
With thy love our bosoms fill.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou hast loved us, love us still.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou hast loved us, love us still.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Can the True Shepherd forgive me yet again?

Can anyone of us remember when we discovered our name? Probably not, but we soon discovered how important it was to have those around us call us by our name. We delighted in hearing it. We repeated it often. There was real joy to be experienced ... all in and through just our name. The true shepherd knows the name of each and everyone of his sheep. He knows my name and yours. He calls us by our name. He knows me … peace rolls down our soul like a mighty river.

Scripture: Jeremiah 31:10-34
Israel, because of their wicked ways, is scattered, but here is a promise from God that God will gather his children once again to him, forgive their wickedness, make a new covenant with them, be there God and restore the Promised Land for them.

Reflection: There are times that most of us feel that we have been so bad that God just couldn’t forgive us ... especially for the umpteenth time for the exact same stupid mistake. When will we learn? And why do we have that overriding sense that we can reach a point that God will not forgive us? Because we have experienced the unforgiving nature of our fellow human beings. Once the unforgiveness of others is experienced it is hard to unlearn that lesson and easily transfer the same nature over to God. Yet, God operates from a different standard. God is quick to forgive. God is constantly ready to restore. God is forever drawing his straying sheep back into the fold.

Prayer: Eternal and True Shepherd, we have strayed far from your love. We have followed our own desires. We have longed for the freedom of “doing it our way.” We have pursued our own appetites and have fallen victim to our devices. Thank you for the promise that no matter how bad we might have been nor how far we might have wandered from your love and protection you will always bring us back. Thank you for being there. In the name of the only true and faithful shepherd, Jesus Christ himself. Amen

Further reflection from Therese of Lisieux
“If I did not simply live from one moment to the next, it would be impossible for me to keep my patience. I can see only the present, I forget the past and I take good care not to think about the future. We get discouraged and feel despair because we brood about the past and the future. It is such follow to pass one’s time fretting, instead of resting quietly on the heart of Jesus.”

The Struggle: My biggest struggle is taking over. God leads me to a situation. Blesses me beyond my wildest imagination. I say “thank you God” and then begin to take charge, make suggestions, alter the divine plan to suit my ideas … and every time I end up shooting myself in the foot. I need to learn to live in the moment, trust God to bring the glory and be faithful to my call to be the under-shepherd. God knows my name. I know that. God knows my future. I know that too. God has a perfect plan for all that is before me. I believe that … now comes the challenge to trust what I already know.

Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us –attr. to Dorothy A. Thrupp
Thou hast promised to receive us,
Poor and sinful though we be;
Thou hast mercy to relieve us,
Grace to cleanse and power to free.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
We will early turn to thee.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
We will early turn to thee.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Day 2 of struggling with the ramifications of God as the Good Shepherd

God is our shepherd. Slowly that sinks in. Israel came to see God as their shepherd. The early followers of Jesus saw Jesus as their shepherd. We are motivated to seek out a good shepherd, but to do that means that we are in a position to hear his voice, realize his protection and agree to his presence in our life. The good shepherd’s voice is known to the sheep, his staff is calming and as he walks among us we can live with the calming assurance of his shadow upon our backs and the sound of his footsteps is pleasing to our ears.

Scripture: Ezekiel 11:14-21
Ezekiel proclaims a word from God to the scattered people of Israel. It is a word of restoration. It is a word of promise. It is a word of faithfulness. It is word that the people will once again be gathered together in the Promised Land and God will be their God.

Reflection: The Psalm for this week (Psalm 80) also has an overriding theme of restoration. It is easy to get lost in this world. Our attention is demanded by competing sources. Our energy is divided among a variety of activities and we remain tired. The news media brings the constant stream of information to our attention and we are overwhelmed. The 24/7 of life almost becomes more than we can honestly deal with. Our souls cry out for a shepherd, for one voice that makes sense, for a single source of possibility and purpose. It is easy to get lost in this world. There is a desire to be restored … to restore some sense of purpose … to restore a standing among the people … to restore a sound foundation in world that appears to be coming apart. We need a shepherd. We need and desire a good shepherd!

Prayer: Gracious Parent, you know me better than I know myself. I am painfully aware that I need your guidance, your shepherding. Restoration sounds good, but that means you demand and expect my 24/7 attention, commitment, surrender and loyalty. Help me from going astray. Amen.

Further reflection from Six Hours One Friday by Max Lucado
“And though God’s people often forgot their God, God didn’t forget them. He kept his word…. He never gives up. When Joseph was dropped into a pit by his own brothers, God didn’t give up. When Moses said, ‘Here I am, send Aaron,’ God didn’t give up. When the delivered Israelites wanted Egyptian slavery instead of milk and honey, God didn’t give up.”

The Struggle: I am my own man. I’ve worked hard to achieve my independence. I longed for it. I prayed for it. I wished for it … and all the while I’ve prayed for your will, your purpose, your direction … and when it comes I begin to question the wisdom of what I asked for because I have to give up being my own person, my independence. I don’t’ do that easily thus the struggle that causes me to lose sleep (I am back into my sleep for 4 hours, up for 2 and then back down for 2 cycle). As the plaque that my wife gave me several years ago states: Give God the night shift. I have to learn to trust the shepherd as he is the one who restores, he is the one who gathers, he is the one who brings success … he is the shepherd.

Like a Shepherd Lead Us – attr. to Dorothy A. Thrupp
We are thine, do thou befriend us,
Be the guardian of our way;
Keep thy flock, from sin defend us,
Seek us when we go astray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Hear, O hear us, when we pray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Hear, O hear us, when we pray.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Reflections on being a good shepherd vs. a bad shepherd in light of Jeremiah 23:1-8

NOTE: Your input and suggestions are deeply appreciated. I am always open to directions and ideas that God will suggest through you as you are on your own spiritual journey.

Once again we are reminded that God is our shepherd. As a city boy, growing up in Miami, I can appreciate this image while not fully understanding it. I would guess that most of us are in the same boat. Oh, we have heard/read farmers talk about the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep … that we understand, but that is about as far as it goes. I remember hearing Dr. Clovis Chappell share the story of preaching in the Midwest to a group of farmers who raised sheep who didn’t appreciate being referred to as sheep … dumb sheep. Well, maybe that is why we need a shepherd because we continue to make dumb decisions.

Scripture: Jeremiah 23:1-8
A woe and a promise are made. Woe to the bad shepherds who have scattered his sheep and a promise that God is sending a good shepherd, “The Lord Our Righteousness,” who will gather the sheep back into the fold and onto their own land.

Reflection: Personally, this is a very interesting passage at this particular time for I am being asked to once again take on the role of shepherd to one of God’s flocks. Somewhere along the way this congregation has gotten lost. Somewhere along the way this growing and dynamic church was misled by a shepherd or two and are now at a point that they cannot afford a full time pastor. Somewhere along the way they have lost their focus and a sense of why God brought them together. Somewhere along the way … but, now may God take center stage and may I not get in the way as I seek to lead them back to the promise land.

Prayer: Faithful and caring shepherd, gather once again your scattered sheep. Bring us to good grazing fields. May I be worthy of the role and spiritually rooted for the task placed before me. Prepare their hearts for the future that you and you alone is laying out before them. Give us eyes to see it and a heart to desire it. In the name of our shepherd, Jesus Christ himself. Amen.

Further reflection from A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie
“To-day, O Lord – let me put right before interest: let me put others before self: let me put the things of the spirit before the things of the body: let me put the attainment of noble ends above the enjoyment of present pleasures: let me put principle above reputation: let me put Thee before all else.

“O Thou the reflection of whose transcendent glory did once appear unbroken in the face of Jesus Christ, give me to-day a heart like His – a brave heart, a true heart, a tender heart, a heart with great room in it, a heart fixed on Thyself; for His name’s sake. Amen.”

The Struggle: The feelings that are confronting me this morning are multi-layered. On the one hand I am excited to be given an opportunity to serve another church. Any retired pastor worth their salt will admit that they miss that sense of personal relationship that a pastor has with a congregation – like a shepherd has with his/her sheep. But on the other hand, I am painfully aware that though the position is part-time I know myself well enough that nothing I have ever done is part-time. So, it is with some reluctance that I step back into the role of pastor because of the demands on time and energy … and more than one sleepless night. My struggle is to keep ever before me that I am only the under-shepherd. God is the shepherd. I need to remember that … God is in charge!

Savior, like a Shepherd Lead Us, Attr. to Dorothy A. Thrupp:
Savior, like a shepherd lead us,
Much we need thy tender care;
In thy pleasant pastures feed us,
For our use thy folds prepare.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou has bought us, thine we are.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou has bought us, thine we are.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Day 6 in the spiritual journey to place aside vanity and seek God's purpose

NOTE: I am playing around with a different approach to my daily blog and would love for your input concerning this approach. Thanks for visiting and taking the time to read what this old preacher might be thinking. Please email with your comments at

Noise surrounds us. It has a tendency to drown out the still small voice of God. The noise adds only confusion to our journey. Each of the noisemakers demands our attention and robs us of the opportunities to be in God’s presence. Finding time and a place wherein we can be quiet and experience the stillness of heart is the 21st Century challenge for anyone who is serious of developing a stronger relationship with God, as well as a clear understanding of the direction God desires for us to take in our spiritual journey.

Scripture: Acts 4:23-37
Two stories make up this passage. First is the one about Peter and John’s release and how their people came together to pray and so powerful was their unity in prayer that the place in which they were meeting was shaken, filling them with holy boldness. The second story supports the unity – being of one mind and one heart - concept in that no one considered their possessions as theirs, but something to be shared with others.

Reflection: Wouldn’t it be great if God’s people had this sense of unity instead of trying to out do the neighbors or trying to impress their neighbors with their “stuff”. I saw “The Devil’s Advocate” last evening staring Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino. Pacino was the embodiment of the Devil. It was the last line in the movie that sticks with you, “Vanity, definitely my favorite sin.” Vanity creeps into our lives and trips us all up at one point or another. Vanity keeps us from being bolder with our faith. Vanity keeps our priorities out of balance with God’s purpose for our life. Vanity keeps us from being united in prayer, separated into our little cells, divided over direction. The people of Peter and John’s circle were focused resulting in their strong unity so much so that when they prayed the earth shook. Satan is frightened when vanity is placed aside and God’s people pray.

Prayer: Eternal Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer help me to place aside my ego, my desires, my wishes, my reputation, my opinions, my arrogance, my pride, my self-centeredness and focus on your will for my life and ministry. Amen.

Further reflection from Earth and Altar by Eugene H. Peterson
“We do not begin life on our own. We do not finish it on our own. Life, especially when we experience by faith the complex interplay of creation and salvation, is not fashioned out of our own genetic lumber and cultural warehouses. It is not hammered together with the planks and nails of our thoughts and dreams, our feelings and fancies. We are not self-sufficient. We enter a world that is created by God, that already has a rich history and is crowded with committed participants – a world of animals and mountains, of politics and religion; a world where people build houses and raise children, where volcanos erupt lava and river flow to the sea; a world in which, however carefully we observe and watch and study it, surprising things keep on taking place (like rocks turning into pools of water). We keep on being surprised because we are in on something beyond our management, something over our heads.”

The Struggle: Soon, once again, I will be stepping before a congregation to serve them as their pastor. My heart and head are divided. It means leaving the leisure of retirement and picking up the disciplines of study and preparation. It means that my agenda and time will belong to others. It will mean some sleepless nights. The threat of allowing my vanity to get in the way will be just over the horizon and just around the next corner. It means stepping back into the arena of noise of a congregation where everyone’s voice wants to be heard and everyone’s desires wants to be met and everyone’s direction for the church wants to be fulfilled. My struggle is to keep the focus on God and be his instrument to bring about the unity that Peter and John experienced among their people.

I Want a Principle Within by Charles Wesley:
I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear,
a sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire,
to catch the wandering of my will, and quench the kindling fire.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Day 5 - of a spiritual journey learning to trust God to be the one who watches over me

NOTE: I am playing around with a different approach to my daily blog and would love for your input concerning this approach. Thanks for visiting and taking the time to read what this old preacher might be thinking. Please email with your comments at

Do we really need someone to watch over us? As a toddler most of us want to remain very close to our protective parents. We cling to their legs, hid behind their skirts, and run to their arms the minute something doesn’t seem right. When we become teenagers … not so much. We cannot wait until the day arrives that we are out on our own, making our own decisions … until something bad happens then we want our mommies or we need something fixed or solved then we want our daddies. Parents become a safety net. Not a bad role for us parents. But watch over us? Really? And yet that is one of the promises from God … that he will watch over us in all of our comings and goings … for now and forevermore. This knowledge can and does give to us a quiet peace … like the little toddler who knows that mommy and daddy are not too far away.

Scripture: Colossians 2:6-15
While still in a state of sinfulness Jesus came and made us alive. Our spirits have been circumcised; cutting us off from the worldly powers and authority that seeks to destroy us. Christ has made a laughing stock out of their foolishness by nailing them to the cross. And … we are alive!

Reflection: We like rules … most of the time. They have a way of defining our boundaries … you can go this far, but no farther. And, we like to play the role of “societies policemen” by watching over our neighbors to make sure that they don’t step over the line and break the rules. We buy into the worldly powers and authority. There is a sense of works righteousness at play to make sure that we are good enough, that we do enough, that we play by the rules, making sure that everything is fair and above board. Thus, in the process, we compromise our spiritual nature. Christ has freed us from this foolishness. In fact, he has ridiculed this kind of thinking and living. We are free to love our enemies and those who would seek to do all sorts of harm against us. That is, if we will but allow ourselves to be “buried with him in baptism and raised with him through our faith in the power of God.”

Prayer: Gracious and loving Father, we state so quickly that we are believers in you, that our faith is from you and that we identify ourselves as being one of yours by taking on the title of Christian. And, yet we desire revenge. We plot retaliation. We want to even the score. We celebrate the death of our enemy. Help us, O Lord, to learn what it means to live in you, to be rooted and built up in you. Yes, Lord, help us now more than ever. Amen.

Further reflection from Why, O Lord? By Carlo Carretto
“How can you live in the same house with someone (forever) without the same likes and dislikes? How can you sit at table together with different plans – or worse, opposing ones?

‘I died on the cross for you and you don’t move a finger for me,’ Jesus would have the right to say to me. And: ‘I’m faithful, I’ve never betrayed you. And you? Betray me is all you do. … I love poverty. What about you? What do you love? I consented to be humiliated, ridiculed, defeated, while you are afraid of what others will think of you. You tremble if someone criticizes you in the paper?’

Isn’t this so? … The journey is long and its name is exodus. The exodus is the journey made by human beings to learn God’s tastes by experience. It is God’s school, the apprenticeship of the kingdom, the child’s growing up to become like the parent.”

The Struggle: This has been a difficult week for me spiritually. As an American I was relieved that Osama Bin Laden was finally found and taken off our “most wanted” list and yet, as a Christian I was sad that a life was taken. I was sad as my fellow Christians, even one that I had baptized as an infant, rejoiced and celebrated the death. I have struggled with these issues most of my adult journey and they won’t be going away anytime soon. I am thankful for the country in which I live. I am grateful for those who are willing to serve in the military. My eyes well up with tears when I think of what these brave men and women do on a daily basis, but then there is my faith. How do I reconcile my faith and live as a Kingdom person? The answers are not easy nor do they quickly come … and the struggle continues. It is like playing a game of “who do you trust” – do I trust God to be my protector, the one who has promised to watch over me … forever … or to I compromise my faith and trust in the powers and authority of worldly governments … buying into their agenda?

The Rev. Dr. Jim Harnish, senior pastor of the historical Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, FL has written in his weekly FAITH MATTERS article something that I have found to be very helpful in my struggle entitled, "Was Jesus Cheering".

Only Trust Him by John H. Stockton:
Yes, Jesus is the truth, the way that leads you into rest;
believe in him without delay, and you are fully blest.
Only trust him, only trust him, only trust him now.
He will save you, he will save you, he will save you now.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day 4 in my struggle to keep the Living Lord as my constant companion

NOTE: I am playing around with a different approach to my daily blog and would love for your input concerning this approach. Thanks for visiting and taking the time to read what this old preacher might be thinking. Please email with your comments at

We haven’t learned the lesson. We still rely on our political alliances and military might. Israel sought to do things their way and ended up in exile. We are following their example and are presently in an emotional and psychological exile. Psalm 121 clearly states that “my help comes from the Lord” and we say that, but pick up our guns and drive our tanks all the while wondering why we do not have peace. Peace comes only from being in God’s presence as the one who “watches over us” and is “our shade at our right hand; the sun will not harm us by day nor the moon by night.” God is our constant companion if we will but follow his directions and his way.

Scripture: Philippians 4:1-9
Paul writes the church gently reminding them that they should stand firm in the Lord and seek unity and harmony among everyone. “Rejoice in the Lord always” is his instructions. Thus, we are not to be anxious about anything, but bring everything to God in prayer with thanksgiving. And, then trust God to bring an answer.

Reflection: We have a tendency, especially in America, to think that we have to accomplish it by our own power and authority – GIT-R-DONE, to quote Larry the Cable Guy. Also, what seems to be driving us is the might-makes-right philosophy. This all results in a non-sequitor faith. We start with a good statement, “Jesus is our Savior and Lord,” but everything that follows that appears a little disjointed. One thing doesn’t logically follow the others and we end up with a Civil-Religion that is more about us and our country than it is about God and his Kingdom. Oh, we ask God … constantly … but when we get up from our knees we pick back up the problems that we just layed on the altar. Paul instructs us to think only about pure, true, noble, right, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy things. That is to be our focus … and we are put it into practice … therein lies the rub … putting it into practice!

Prayer: Gracious God, I live in a country and among people who have lost their way. And, I am right there in the middle of all the madness, a major contributor to the foolishness. Please forgive me and bring me back to rejoicing, bring me back to being a Kingdom person, bring me back to putting into practice what I already know to be right. Amen.

Further reflection from Together in Solitude by Douglas Steere
“Yet, for all of this lukewarmness, we hunger. And we know well enough that there is a response. There is an answering back to the Grace of God on your part and on mine that is all-important. We know, too, that the redeeming of our time calls for nothing less than the blazing up out of our prostrate bodies of an authentic, original, passionate, interior life in answer to the Living Flame that confronts us.”

The Struggle: Don’t we all speak a better game than we play? At least I do. Do we/I rejoice in all things? Do we/I seek the welfare of everyone, especially the less fortunate? Do we/I desire to live in harmony with all people – regardless of who and what they are? Do we/I quickly forgive the wrongs done by others? Is harmony our/my first priority? Is the Kingdom of God the place of residence for my soul? Is God’s righteousness my constant goal? When I speak is it God’s words that come forth from my lips? Is it God’s emotions that emerge from my soul? Is it God’s purpose driving me? Oh, the questions! Oh, the struggle. And it isn’t something that I simply can get to another day.

O Come and Dwell in Me by Charles Wesley:
I ask no higher state;
Indulge me but in this,
And soon or later then translate
To thine eternal bliss.